Author Archives: Elizabeth Toogood

Elizabeth Toogood

About Elizabeth Toogood

Elizabeth is a mixture of mentor, coach and non-executive director. She meets face to face with individuals and gives each of them total focus; there are no matrices or models into which they need to fit. The ethos of Elizabeth Toogood is to offer a high level of support and serious intellectual challenge.

A thought for November

We are well into Autumn. Glorious bright mornings with a nip in the air and ice on the car. We remember what a blessing central heating is and snuggle into cosy sofas when we have drawn the curtains. Physical days are shorter, and activities are curtailed accordingly. And of course the shops are full of Christmas cheer. A friend told me she has had her first Christmas card – on 3 November!

Most of us are wondering what needs to be achieved before Christmas and To Do lists are being prepared accordingly.

I am in the midst of rebranding my business. I have had the pale blue colour and safe pair of hands strapline for six years and it is tired. This is not the great reveal – that will come in the next few months I hope – this is all about the process.

I am sure you have been through this. I think it is my seventh time either in my own business or other people’s. I was fortunate the first couple of times; in corporate life there was enough budget to employ a brand specialist. On the other hand when one works alone there are not too many people with whom to argue! Even so there is a good deal of thinking to do.

My branding came into being when I first started this business and I wanted to be very clear that I am a business mentor and not a business coach. These are not semantics. A coach often has a process for reviewing all parts of a business and will teach as they work the person through this. A mentor starts with the issue that is on the person’s mind and works from there helping the person develop business, management and personal skills as appropriate to the situation. Coaches tend to be younger and this role is part of their career plan. A mentor is usually older, has done lots of business stuff and wants to help those who follow, succeed first time rather than make the same mistakes. This was why I came up with the term critical friend. Whilst descriptive I have spent lots of time explaining it means high challenge and high support within a safe environment. The time has come to acknowledge this and find a business persona that is immediately recognisable as what I am.

I am traditional, so it starts with my looking again at my core business. What am I doing that I enjoy and am good at? Which of the services I offer are most popular? Am I doing anything I should not be?

What are my values? And have they changed? It was a great time for my friend Jules White to publish her book Live it, Love it, Sell it. She asks great questions about values and made me dig deep. If you are looking for a sales coach in a book then read it; it is a fantastic way to look at sales and beat your fears.

Once I had my core business and my values straight I had to think about my ideal customer. Yes, I know it is flavour of the moment, but it is very important. Who are our clients? When I started this business I was branding to attract the clients I expected to have. This time I have real data to work with. My clients are female, between 35 and 45 in the main, in long term relationships, with children and their income is important to the household. They run their own businesses which started on the kitchen table and are often undercapitalised. I could go on but am sure that you get the gist.

So to the brand.

  • What are the words to describe it? What is it not?
  • How is it positioned in the market? What are its characteristics?
  • Where does it hang out and with whom and what?
  • What colour is it?
  • How old?
  • What is its style?
  • When I first did this back in the 1980s, I remember being shocked when asked to think about which animal our brand was. Now this is common place. So I know which animal my brand is, which car, which actor, which song and where and with whom it hangs out.

I have done my thinking and briefed all the relevant people. Now I am in the business of reviewing other people’s ideas about what I have said. It is a great process refining and refining.

Now I tell you all this not because I am a brand expert, I am most certainly not. However, I am now an expert on my own brand and everything it stands for. The clarity has helped me define my marketing strategy, put myself in the right rooms with the right people (avoiding the rooms that might be nice but not useful) and honed my antennae to detect the right customers for me. I knew most of this stuff but had not revisited it for a while and the world changes all the time. It has been great to re-connect with the work I love and remember why I do it.

None of this is original and we know most of it, but I am saying it is a good process and I should not have left it six years. Stepping back from the day to day and considering how to get my message across; going back to fundamentals has been great. I have had time to think about what I am and what I stand for. I recommend it to everyone.

If this Thought has been interesting, please share it.

Working with a mentor is one of the major ways of improving your business, management and personal skills. It is a great way to work through any business issue that is preventing you achieving what you want to. Why not chat to me about how it might work for you.

Life is good; let’s live it to the full, enjoy it and be the best we can be.

A thought for October

Autumn is in full swing and the colours are wonderful. The grape harvest is good, and they say the wine will be beautiful. What more could we want in October?

Have you noticed that everyone is busy? No I don’t mean they are demonstrating lots of activity. I mean when you say to someone “how are you” they say, “Oh I am so busy”. On one hand I know they are busy (by their standards) on the other I sometimes think this is competitive busyness – I am busier than you, so I am more important than you. Is this just me?

The real question is what am I busy doing and are these the right things?

Once a year I keep a detailed diary for a fortnight detailing what I actually did with my time. Its analysis sometimes requires a strong stomach.

  • Two hours on that Saturday afternoon clearing my inbox – was that really necessary? I could have been watching the rugby.
  • An hour’s travel time to meet that client – did the fee level justify that?
  • An hour on a Friday afternoon having my nails done – what did that do for my business? Why was I doing it in work time rather than leisure time?
  • Two hours finding a reference for a client – did she really need to know where I found the research I quoted? And why did I not note it in the first place?
  • Meeting that person for an hour plus travel time – what was it supposed to achieve?
  • Writing three standard emails yet again instead of having them in my processes folder and just blasting them out automatically – why do I do this?

I could go on. Suffice it to say the diary helps me to see the error of my ways and put things right. However I do need to do this once a year to ensure I stay on the straight and narrow.

When a new client comes to me I usually ask what a typical day looks like especially if their life involves regular childcare and all that implies. I had a client recently who looked sheepish when I asked the question. It turned out that she was addicted to Facebook (well we did not know that until we did the analysis). She was spending 2 to 2.5 hours a day catching up with Facebook and I do not mean posting on her business page. Then we multiplied the time by her hourly rate. The daily cost was frightening. Bless her once we found a strategy of how she could get out of this expensive habit and she made it work. The first few days of cold turkey were tough, but she did it and a week on is still clean. She is also getting more “proper” work done – there is a surprise! Very well done I say, it has not been easy, and she has put in the effort. The prize has been worth the price.

The truth is that she was busy. She was doing stuff, just not the right stuff. We all know the theory of prioritising our work but how often do we do it properly and make a To Do list in priority order and then crucially work down it from the top. Some of us don’t prioritise so do not achieve the tasks we should. Some of us cherry pick the things we want to do (or avoid the tasks that we don’t). We forget the basic time management strategy:

Urgent and Important Do it now!

Not Urgent and Important Programme it into quality time when we are functioning at our best and do it.

Urgent and Not Important  Do it quickly and do not worry about it being perfectly executed

Not Urgent and Not Important Bin it!

None of this is original and we know it. We all fill the time available because we are busy. Ask yourself at least once a year what you are busy doing?

  • Are these the right things?
  • Have you got into bad habits?
  • Is there a need for change?
  • Time is the one thing we can never get back , we should use it wisely. Are you?

If not face the issue. There are ways to change those bad habits, ways to break addictions, ways to get back on track. Working with a mentor is one of the major ways of improving your personal skills. Why not chat to me about how.

If this has been interesting, please share it.

Now I am busy, so I am off to get on! Life is good; let’s live it to the full, enjoy it and be the best we can be.

A thought for September

September already. Where did that summer go?  It seems to me that autumn is already here. The Met office says it starts on 1 September, but my garden has thought it for a while – leaves have died early, and the ground is covered in autumn debris. There is that lovely nip in the air first thing in the morning and the world feels fresh each day. A charity dared to mention the word Christmas to me and I have just bought my 2019 diary. 2018 is rushing headlong to its end!

This is the week when most of us change our routines. Have you a child going to a new school or into a new class, starting to work for exams or even off to university or college? If you have you may be acutely conscious of how things are changing. It is so much more than new shoes and new timetables. We watch our children change their objectives and their focus (whether they want to or not). Ambitions may become clearer and timescales certainly do. We try to support all this and add in our learnings and wisdom.

We may also be around those starting their first major job. Do you remember that day? I do – scary or what? Looking back, it was all about learning a new set of rules. A stranger in a new country we needed to find a map and ask the locals for help.

It seems to me that September has been the start point for many changes throughout our lives. The world around us has changed our focus whether we want it to or not. However, as we grow we decide when to make changes and move on. We may be prompted by the seasons but there are different rhythms in our working year. We know that September feeling (a beginning). Then there is the calendar year end looming (get it done before the UK shuts for a fortnight), then the tax year (get those expenses in) and sometimes we have a different financial year that drives our business decisions. All of these dates provide our business milestones.

How do you view yours? Are you stimulated by the up coming quarter? Seeing it as an opportunity, inspired to make it work for you, planning what you are going to do? I hope so. It seems to me that a 12-week quarter is a manageable chunk of time. One in which tasks can be achieved, not too daunting, which is why so many successful businesses run on a quarterly review process; look back, review, look forward, plan for what you want to achieve.

On the other hand are you still in second gear? Reluctantly trying to pull yourself together? A client said to me this morning “I need a kick up the backside, I am still on summer time, passing the days rather than using the days”. It happens to us all but if you have a business or work for someone else you are there to ensure the outcomes are right.

We watch our children as they make those fresh starts. We help them make the transitions. We support them as they approach the difficult times or when the road gets rough. Their development is a joint enterprise.

When we are an employee of a professional organisation we should get the same feeling . If you cannot feel it then maybe you are in the wrong place.

However, if you work for yourself where do you get this level of challenge and support? Who helps you to plan the next quarter? Who reviews it with you? Who helps you learn the lessons and improve? Who shares your successes and helps you stand up when you have fallen over?

I would suggest it could be your mentor (but then I am one); it could be someone else in your support group. The important thing is that you are accountable to someone.

So what am I suggesting as you face this new term and strap on your new school shoes? Thinking about these things could be helpful:

  • This is a fresh start so look forward and not back – the past is gone and the future beckons
  • This is all about you doing the best you can and is not competitive with anyone else
  • Lots can be achieved in the 15 weeks until the year end
  • Have you got the map that shows you where you are going?
  • Looking at that what are the priorities that you want to focus on?
  • How are you going to monitor what you do?
  • What advice and support do you need? And where will you find it?

None of this is original. We often think about others first and put ourselves last. Try thinking about how you would advise your younger self and how you would support that advice.

If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.

A thought for August

August and it has been hot, hot, hot. We are all moving slowly and looking for things not to do. Plants and grass in our gardens are dying. Children are kicking through leaves as they eat ice creams – how very strange it is!

Life is being pared back to the bare minimum.

At the same time the media has been telling us that we look at our phones every twelve minutes. However much we need them that is a frightening statistic. Five times an hour we stop whatever we might be doing and catch up with something else. I wonder what the something else might be in your life? What can you not live without?

Is it the obvious things like texts and emails? In a way they justify themselves as they might be work. What else do you look at? Social media in all its glory? Do you stop working and doing the things that pay your bills in order to look at pictures of other people’s food and dip into their lives? Do you feel better for that? How many of you remember the round robin letters that accompanied Christmas cards? They were full of posh holidays, big family events and clever children who passed their GCSEs when they were 10! They were designed to arouse jealousy and made the reader feel inadequate. Social media can be just the same but without the subtlety.

Then there is the whole cult of taking photographs. Instead of enjoying the experience we have to photograph the experience. I was in an art exhibition recently and people were taking pictures of the pictures! Why?

Now do not get me wrong I love technology that helps me do more, enjoy more or be more effective. I just hate the stuff that makes me feel I am inadequate or missing out on life. Just because I can find out the time in Atlanta does not mean I need to! Knowing the level of humidity does not make me feel cooler. Avoiding a traffic jam is wonderful but only because I get home to those I love sooner.

I love my phone in an emergency, or when I am late or when I am at a festival and can keep up with what is going on in other tents or venues. I love being able to send texts when I am looking for a friend at those big events or I need to know the weather or check out how the trains are running. I love being able to manage my bank account when I might have forgotten to pay off my credit card. It is great to be able to conjure up the book I am reading on my Kindle when I get stuck somewhere. I could go on and on about how fantastic this computer in my hand is…in its place.

However I also find it frightening.

Let’s start with the way people use them on the move. How often have you been barged by someone not paying attention to who else is walking on the pavement? I am a wheelchair user and my machine is electric and therefore silent. I am also not at eye level. I have to be extra alert because the people around me are not and yes, I do get abused for getting into their way. I have to remember they get angry because they are startled and scared.

Are phones the accessory that stops us wondering what to do with our hands? It used to be caressing a drink or smoking a cigarette, now it is holding a phone. In excess they will all kill us.

Phones are definitely for making calls and I am glad that the art of conversation is not dead for everyone (but for a few it is). However, do I want to share some of the intimate details that they reveal? Those ear pieces convince them that they are in a private space. And of course it does not occur to them that I might be able to identify some of the people they are speaking of. In London that would be a long shot. In Bedford it happens.

So why in my business thinking space am I bewailing the mobile phone?

The first set of reasons are about what they do for self-esteem. Do I need to check my phone to be sure I exist? To feel important because someone is trying to contact me? To matter to someone? To be sure I am important? Am I more comfortable with the machine than engaging with the real world? Am I too shy to engage with the people around me? Is it dangerous to be seen doing nothing? Is the phone the modern-day version of a shield? All of these things concern me if they might be true for some people.

Then as a business mentor I am perturbed by the implication that if we carry a phone that is switched on we are available. When I first started work I remember being with a wise old manager discussing something or other and the phone rang. I waited for him to answer it and learnt an important lesson when he said the person in front of you is always more important than the person who randomly decided to ring you at the same moment. How true that is.

We need chunks of time to engage in some of our tasks. Lessons in schools are not 30 to 40 minutes by accident. This length of time gives us an opportunity to engage with a task and then do something productive before your attention starts to tail off. Try using your phone’s alarm to alert you to when the work period ends.

Phones can be a fantastic displacement activity. Checking them can take 10 minutes. If you have not enough to do then checking your phone can while away the time. If you want to be productive think of your phone as an addiction you need to control. Think of it as a piece of machinery to help you simplify your life or make it more effective rather than a habit to be fed come what may.

None of this is original. Use your phone as a friend rather than a demanding boss – control it rather than letting it control you. Live your own life.

If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.

 

A thought for July

July – the wonderful month of Henley and Wimbledon. Schools are in the exciting time of celebration of achievements, sports days, school plays and concerts; pupils preparing to move on and we are all looking forward to holidays. This year we have a heatwave which most people seem to like (I am not good in heat, so I am the odd one out). Depending on when you are reading this you might be getting all patriotic about the World Cup. As I write we are enjoying the victory over Colombia, but the pressure is already being applied for the Sweden game. I could spend the next few minutes writing about focus, leadership, teamwork, the psychology of achievement or realistic goals but I am not going to!! The media is having a field day doing just this. Instead I want to think about how we choose the work we do.

This week we welcomed a new curate to our church community and on Radio 4 there was the start of a series called The Wrong Job in which Emma Kennedy is investigating why as many as 75% of us are doing jobs with which we are not happy. Alongside that, with the other three judges, I am starting the judgment process for The Inspire Initiative. All this has made me think about how we choose what to do with our lives.

Choosing to be a priest is an unusual process which I have observed on many occasions but never experienced. Most denominations wait for people to come forward, thinking they have a vocation to priesthood and then there is a long period of discernment – trying to perceive what God is saying about the right way forward. The emphasis is on the person considering thoughtfully what their future holds often when they have already committed themselves to a career path. At various stages along the way they are interviewed by different people from different backgrounds, all testing these feelings of vocation.  Eventually they might be selected for training and throughout that period there is more soul searching and the person can pull out. One of my teachers was a lovely man who taught me Religious Knowledge and the basics of Greek; he had pulled out of ordination within weeks of it happening. When I knew him he was recovering, refocusing his life and testing what he should be doing whilst teaching sixth form women.

This is a very different process to being asked at school what you want to do and then being forced into making decisions about appropriate exam courses. The time for convenient academic decisions is often not the moment when we are ready to decide which hole is the right shape for the peg we are! I admired hugely the school friend who having chosen her A levels did a year and then chucked it all in to start again. Suddenly at age 17 she realised she did not want to be a lawyer; she did want to be a vet. Forty years later she has had a wonderfully happy career as a small animal vet. It took huge courage for her to decide her decisions were wrong and then have the strength of conviction to stop the academic wheels rolling and the parental aspirations hardening. All she had to go on was her persistent gut feeling that what she was doing was wrong and what she wanted was right.

She was incredibly fortunate that she could address being on the wrong road because she knew which path she did want to take.

All this can be made even more difficult because someone’s skills do not necessarily give them satisfaction when they use them. My husband was a born salesman. He could talk to anyone, question what their needs were, listen carefully to the answers and then sell them the right product. There was only one problem, it was not his favourite thing; he wanted to be a journalist. Now as you read this you know that talking to people and asking questions would have made him equally good at both. However, he came from a background and a school that could visualise him being a salesman but would not have known where to start in helping him to be a journalist. That was a time when once you started you were on the road and the future was fairly well cast in stone.

Our lovely new curate is in his forties and has had a very successful career in education. He has been brave and taken his time to make this change of direction. He has observed the role of parish priest and got a real sense of what the job is all about. The process the church offers for selection is a pretty good one and does not rush people.

However, for the rest of us there may not be this luxury. How do we discern what our skills are and how we might use them?

Identifying talent is tricky. Often we know far too little to know whether we have any skill. I may love to sing but my untutored voice may not have the natural tone to be worth listening to or hold a tune! The people who watch us and might make a judgement have a natural bias. They may be sure we will be a lawyer because we are a family of lawyers. My builder always wanted to be a builder but comes from a family of farmers and that took some managing. People may see in us either what they expect to see or only apply what they see to a very narrow range of possibilities.

In looking at the entries to The Inspire Initiative I see women who have been in this situation, channelled into certain careers but also there have been women whom someone saw something different in and encouraged that seed to grow.  We all deserved good parents and first-class teachers and those that had them are hugely fortunate and may have been steered in the right direction but what if we did not?

My thought this month is all about helping others have the courage to change direction if they need to. If 75 per cent of people are unhappy at work no wonder our productivity is low as a country. As artificial  intelligence grows and inevitably reduces the number of full time jobs let’s help people find the right role for them. If we cannot see a round hole for this round peg then let’s look further. Let’s look widely at possibilities and push the boundaries. Let’s accept that a job choice may be right for now but at some stage we may want to go back and start again on another road.

Most of all let’s be honest with our children about what jobs involve so that they can start to narrow down what appeals and what does not.

If we are responsible for other people’s development then let’s take that very seriously and give them opportunities to explore what might be possible for them. And do not be confined by our own view of the world; some boxes do not have firm sides!! Helping people find the right place for them is one of the joys of what I do – how fortunate am I? And of course helping people find the right role is only part of it; we need then to find a place where the culture is the right one for the person. This can be a complex process but will allow us to be happy. To leap out of bed in the morning excited by the prospect of work.

None of this is original. But think about where you will work best and happily. If you need some help to do the thinking let me know. Help others to be brave and if they are in the wrong place support them in making a new decision and starting again. And think of our new curate as he does just that.

If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.

A thought for June

June already. Where is the year going? Lots of young people taking exams, poor things. Lots of hay fever about and at the other extreme; thunder storms and horrible humidity. Some people made the half term holiday into a proper holiday and everyone else is looking forward to their annual pilgrimage to the sun.

That is the upside. A couple of days ago I was shelling out huge sums of money for some root canal work. It got me thinking about how we purchase. There are 3 types:

  1. The basic stuff we have to have on a day to day basis like food and underwear. It is not optional, and it is not much fun to buy.
  2. The exciting stuff like clothes, shoes, a new guitar or a gig ticket. These purchases give us a boost and we love them.
  3. Then there are grudge purchases like my dental work. We do not want it. We did not budget for it and we do not feel the benefit. These simply take us back to the status quo.

If you sell the basic stuff then it has to be a stunning transaction for people to keep coming back otherwise they might just go on price. Stunning customer service is the way to get loyalty.

Exciting stuff can sell itself if we make the product or service enticing. Building the dream of ownership is how we sell it.

When it comes to a grudge purchase we want it done properly and as economically as possible. I deliberately did not say cheaply because we want it done once and we want it done properly.

It got me thinking about training, development and experience. We do our initial training and professional qualifications where they are appropriate and then we spend time on continuous professional development. We learn new skills either because we want to become more specialist or because the world we are in is changing and we want to keep up. We seek out experience to complement the training and we become increasingly worth our hire. My dentist is particularly skilled in root canals and his equipment is state of the art and that meant my time in the dentist’s chair was comfortable and as short as possible. He did a great job and although I am poorer I am now pain free and I still have the tooth.

I paid for the training, development and the experience and it has to be remembered: his years of preparation meant I was only in the chair for two hours and the pain was gone. However, there is something else. Anyone can make a job look difficult, it takes talent, real skill and lots of experience to make a job look easy. The ease gives the customer confidence both in the immediate job and its longevity. However, there is a danger because someone makes something look easy we may take the work for granted and forget that it is excellent workmanship. His trick was to take an X-ray before hand and talk about what he could see for five minutes before the work started. He made it clear what he would do and the chances of success. After the work was complete there was another X-ray and he explained what he had done.

My dental work is an obvious success (no pain and no hole) but it has made me think about my day job. Mentoring is all about drawing out the issues from the client and then in some suitable way asking them what the feasible solutions might be. I say “drawing out” because how I do this varies from personality to personality and can take lots of time and skill. I need to read the person and decide on the correct route to take; crafting a plan is the easy bit. For some people they realise that they would not have moved from the starting dilemma on their own and certainly would not have committed to a solution without intervention. Others do not always appreciate that I need forty years of experience and honed skills to get them to that point. Using intuition, reading body language, listening to what is said, hearing what is unsaid and then putting the findings to the person in an acceptable way, this is what I do. Helping them examine these findings and then using them as a starting point for developing some new thinking, this is what I do. Sometimes there is confusion that lifts, sometimes clarity emerges and sometimes the penny drops with a resounding clang. This is the equivalent to the toothache going away. Mostly people know it would not have happened if they were left to their own devices. However, there are days when I need to remember my input. After my visit to the dentist I am thinking what my equivalent of the pre and post X-rays might be. However, sometimes a wonderful, unsolicited testimonial arrives, like this one from Anna Botsford:

If you’re looking for a business mentor………look no further! I can highly recommend Liz, she has given me a safe, non-judgmental space to air my business and personal concerns, issues and goals. She has helped and continues to help me understand more about the way I work and how I can change it to be more productive and effective………. thank you, Liz.

It was good to be reminded that money spent with a mentor offers life time value. And it made me grateful that I had thanked the dentist for his work.

None of this is original. But think about how you demonstrate your talent, skills and experience and remember good work is always good value.

If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.

In the meantime I am also taken up with the Inspire Initiative. It is out on the street now; please take a look at www.theinspireinitiative.co.uk

If you are a woman associated with Bedfordshire in some way and not in full time education you are eligible. There are two prizes of one to one mentoring. What is stopping you from applying?

A thought for April

They call them April showers and my goodness there are plenty of them this year. The councils are fighting losing battles with the pot holes in the roads and car drivers are performing all sorts of antics to avoid them. On the plus side the trees are budding and look very promising; the daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are fabulous, and my grass is growing apace. When the sun shines it is a lovely time to be out and about.

Last month I wrote about The Higgins Museum mounting the Celebrating Women of Bedfordshire exhibition and since then I have had some wonderful conversations about it. Mostly these have been about inspiration.

People have told me who inspired them and why. As they have done so I have watched them get excited again as they relive the moment.

There have been many inspirational teachers mentioned, always by name and with fondness. People who saw something in someone that no one else had spotted and then talked about how it could be developed. There is the wonderful story of Trevor Huddleston, buying the first trumpet for Hugh Masekela, as a 14-year-old who became world famous as a musician and a huge force in the anti-apartheid movement.

There have been inspirational parents either because they did something special or because they recognised something in their children and encouraged them to become something which was not viewed as a real job. I think of so many of the parents of successful sports people. They got up in the middle of the night year after year to get that young person to the ice rink, onto the river or to the gym before school. As the youngster got better they had to be ferried further afield. Family holidays were based around sporting events! And often the epitome of the career is the Olympics or World Championships and they were not able to go. However, it is rare to speak with someone who makes the podium without them thanking those devoted and loving parents.

There were many people in the work place who spotted a talent and then opened doors to allow the person to develop it. How often can we spot our own talents and abilities? We need someone else to identify it and see where it fits in and how it can be developed.

As a mentor I love all this. Someone who believes in you, encourages you and introduces you to people who can help is pure gold. To watch people, remembering when that happened to them is magical. However long ago it might have been, just talking about the memory lights up the person with all the feelings of the moment.

It got me thinking – why not encourage more people to tap into this and rekindle the inspiration and encouragement?

So, I am in the process of developing The Inspire Initiative, which is a competition for women who live or work in Bedfordshire and is designed to help the development of 21st Century business women, whatever their working lives may be. As soon as the website goes live (www.theinspireinitiative.co.uk) I will drop you an email. Please spread the news throughout your network.

The competition is based on an entry describing who inspired you and why. The format can be:

  • A three-minute video
  • A 1000-word blog
  • A PowerPoint presentation of no more than 10 slides

The competition is open to any woman of any age who lives in or works in Bedfordshire, and is not in full time education. It opens as soon as the website is running and closes on Monday 2 July, at 6pm. There is no age limit. It is all about reconnecting women with their influencers and reminding them of that special feeling.

There are two ways to win:

  1. The judges will decide on a shortlist of finalists and then pick the winner who will receive two years of free mentoring with me.
  2. All names of all entrants will go into a draw and the winner will receive one year of free mentoring with me.

However, I hope that everyone will win by reviving that original enthusiasm and that confidence engendered by a special person in their lives.

It is my passion to pass on what I know and offer the support I have had; if you are female and want some of this then apply for the Inspire Initiative. Please share this with all the women in your network.

If you are male I am sorry I will not be able to do this work for free but please speak to me about working with a mentor. A mentor will inspire, guide, teach and share. Eleanor Roosevelt got it right when she said “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself”. Let’s chat about what you want to achieve; whether it is improvement in your business skills; development of management skills or personal skills to make you more effective, and I will explain my processes – if you decide they are robust and will take you forward then you can decide whether to buy me to help or I will suggest other people who might be appropriate.

If this has been interesting, please share it.

A thought for March

March – it came in like a lion with bitter cold and snow. There were fantastic stories of the kindness of strangers to the trapped, isolated and vulnerable. Well done to all those amazing volunteers who did not think twice but piled in and did what needed to be done. Good people who helped when the snow was thick and deep and when the thaw brought burst pipes and water shortages. It was heart-warming and wonderful to see such kindness.

For me March brought something else which was also heart-warming and wonderful.

The Higgins Museum is mounting an exhibition Celebrating Women of Bedfordshire which will highlight the achievements of Bedfordshire women over the last 100 years. The exhibition coincides with the 100th anniversary of some women winning the right to vote, for the first time, as part of the Representation of the People Act, which was passed in February 1918.

The exhibition will highlight the ahievements of 60 women connected with Bedfordshire in the fields of suffrage & politics, education, sport, community power, STEM, wartime, business, and the arts. Women have been nominated, researched, shortlisted and selected by an exhibition development panel made up of volunteers from the local community.

I am stunned and very privileged to be one of the 60 women.

Before I found out I was thinking about this month’s thought and was chewing over the idea of suggesting we should all look regularly at the professionals that support us and review their targets and performance. This came out of one client who was encouraged to believe that a social media campaign was the answer to flagging sales. He entered it at very big regular money without developing a proper strategy. It cost him a great deal and did nothing to move his business forward.  Now it could be argued that it was his responsibility to develop his marketing strategy and then select the right tools to achieve it. However, I think that if we sell a service we have a duty of care to our clients to ensure it is what they need. Leading the blind up the wrong path is unethical.

Another client has just been taken to the cleaners by her accountant who lumbered her, without warning, with a massive personal tax bill. In this case it was not that she was not expecting a tax bill and had not been squirreling money away to cover it. What floored her was that he had not kept her in the loop about one particular aspect of her business that meant she was liable for twice what she expected. I think if we sell a service we must communicate with clients regularly about where things are going. They employ us to be their representatives and have the technical knowledge to forecast the future for them so there are no horrible surprises.

In both these cases the advisers came with good reputations but were revealed not to have good processes. One did not initiate a strategic discussion before inaugurating a campaign and the other did not communicate at regular intervals and in particular when a problem was looming on the horizon. Good people are useless unless they have robust, tried processes which they follow consistently; however willing, they are working with their hands tied. And as the client you should be confident that you understand the processes and are confident they will yield what you want before you buy the person.

It seems to me that networking can be held responsible for some of this. We meet people we like; are convinced by what they say in bringing a useful tool to our business table and then we do not go back one stage and test that process.

How is this relevant to me being selected to be amongst these 60 Bedfordshire women?

The first reason is that my selection made me think about the very special people in my business life who taught me what they knew, supported me, told me hard truths but most of all shared processes that were tried and tested. These were the drivers in the business: targets and the plans and budgets that would measure how much we were achieving. Then there were the component parts: production planning and monitoring; sourcing suppliers; market research and planning; sales; delivering stunning customer service; accounting; hawk eyed cashflow management; and the rock-solid administration that supports them. Only when all this is in place is it worth thinking about finding the most talented people to accomplish them. Then of course there are all the managerial skills needed to lead a productive, creative team.

I was incredibly fortunate I was selected to join a gold plated management training scheme; I was offered opportunities like project teams and working parties; I was encouraged to get my professional qualifications as quickly as I could; I was selected to undertake an in-company MBA at Henley; I was pushed to look above and beyond policies and procedures and find original answers to problems and situations. In all cases I was given the basic processes before being encouraged to get sophisticated and creative.

There were some astonishingly able people in my career who shared time with me, questioning what I was doing and how; pushing me out of my comfort zone; evaluating my performance and encouraging me to grow and develop; as well as analysing the many mistakes that I made (and some were dreadful). They were people who believed in me.

So, I do feel privileged, but I also think I know my trade. I may not be good at everything and some lessons have been very hard learned but I know where to go and how to find answers; I know how to get the best out of people.

It was good to be reminded of all this and to be grateful yet again for the people who gave me their time and believed I could be a good business woman.

And the second reason I feel privileged by my selection by The Higgins. It has been a rigorous process. I have no idea who else was considered but I know each of us was scrutinised and deemed worthy.

So, thank you to The Higgins. And thank you to the people who have taught me.

It is my passion to pass on what I know and offer the support I have had; if you are thinking of working with a mentor and you believe Eleanor Roosevelt when she said “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself” then please speak to me. Let’s chat about what you want to achieve; whether it is improvement in your business skills; development of management skills or personal skills to make you more effective, and I will explain my processes – if you decide they are robust and will take you forward then you can decide whether to buy me to help or look elsewhere!

If this has been interesting, please share it.

Working smarter not harder

As a business mentor I work with all sorts of people who want to improve their business performance and go from just being good to being great. The question I am most often asked is “please can you help me work smarter? I am working lots of hours, am permanently tired, know I am not as organised as I could be and do not know where to start. Help!”

Working smarter means very different things for different people but usually comes out of one of the three areas of your business life:

  • How you develop your business skills
  • How you use your management skills
  • How you manage yourself

Or maybe it is some mixture of all three?

I am going to give you my top tip in each area – not necessarily the tip that will make most difference in the long run but the tip that will give you an immediate result:

Business skills – successful business is selling something someone else wants at a price that makes you a profit. – simple. Except it isn’t because people often do not know what price to charge. Pricing is based on four factors:

  1. What is your skill level and what equipment do you need; therefore, how much should you charge for it? Remember it is the plumbing apprenticeship you pay for, not the five minutes to fix the leak.
  2. What do the competition charge and why? This will be one of the influencers in deciding where to buy. There is a market out there.
  3. What does the customer expect to pay and why? If you charge too little you will not be taken seriously and too much you will be viewed with suspicion.
  4. Having the confidence to charge the right figure. Good work is not expensive it is good value. You need to learn how to ask for the business at the price you have determined.

Get all this together and you will make a profit and probably work fewer hours!

Management skills – whether we have employees or not we need to learn how to manage others. It could be to achieve what we want from our clients, suppliers or contacts. We must rely on other people to achieve tasks for us and so the top skill is how to delegate properly.

Most people are afraid to delegate because they fear the other person will not do the job the way it should be done (that is the way you would do it!). The truth is that most people want to do a good job but they do not always have enough information to do it well and so they improvise. Before you ask anyone to do anything ask yourself: what do I want done exactly? What is the outcome I want? When do I need it done by? Do I need reports as the task goes on to let me know how it is going? What freedoms does the person have to complete the task? Once you have answered these questions you are in a good place to brief someone to do the job.

The communication needs to be two-way: you explain and ask questions to check out what the person has heard you say. These are not always the same thing! And don’t forget the most important question of all is “is there anything else you want to know?” and the most important statement is “come back to me at any stage if you have any questions”.

Personal skills: are we doing what we are good at as effectively as possible? This includes your admin! None of us likes doing this stuff, we prefer to do the things we started the business to do. This means we need to accomplish the other work as quickly and competently as possible, so we can get back to the more interesting stuff. It also goes without saying that there are never enough hours in any day to do all we want.

The key is to be doing the right thing at the right time.

My top tip is spending some time working out all that must be done and then organising it. Set aside some time to list everything that is on your plate right now. This should include work things, family things and personal things. Add to this over a few days as your brain reminds you of stuff you overlooked in the first sweep. Then:

  • Note against each task the optimum time by which it should be done; not the last minute but a comfortable time AND work out how long it will take to complete.
  • Find a bring forward system that you like.
  • Note each task separately and file it on the date you must start it to have it finished at the right moment.
  • Each week look at the days ahead and the work to be done and decide what must be done first.
  • Stick with your work schedule!

All this sounds easy and obvious. In many ways it is at an intellectual level. However, it is not easy to change habits, new habits need to become ingrained. It could easily be that you need support. That is where someone like me – a mentor – may come in. If so, please contact me for a free chat about what your unique needs might be and how we might meet them.

A thought for January

January; Christmas has gone (hope it was a happy time for you) and now the new year is upon us. Thank goodness the days are getting longer and we have many good things to which we can look forward. The problem with January is that everyone is talking about goal setting on one hand and resolutions that involve deprivation on the other. Many people know that I am not in favour of new year resolutions – they are often forged because everyone is doing it; without serious thought about what we need to achieve and how all those things might fit together; too often they revolve around giving things up not taking things up. Framing ideas in terms of misery is no way to achieve. However, I am not going to bang on about that; if you want to speak about crafting meaningful goals you will achieve then please give me a call.

No; this month I want to tell you a sad business story from which I think we can be reminded of some vital truths.

A few weeks ago, I went to the theatre. A famous musical theatre star was touring, doing One Night Only. It was a cold Monday evening, but the theatre was full of people and the excitement was palpable. We were all settled in for a good evening. We were fans.

Except we weren’t in for a good evening. This famous star upset 1500 punters good and proper. She did not sing what we expected. We wanted big musical numbers maybe interspersed with annecdotes about the story or her heroes in the business. She picked songs she liked – not from the musicals, not from the world we knew her in – and she talked a great deal not about the shows for which she was famous, just general rather egocentric chat. You could feel how disappointed the audience was. The applause was very thin. The embarrassment was growing by the minute. My friend whispered, “If there was an interval we could go home” and she was right.

What went wrong?

It seems to me there were three things:

  1. We did not get the product we had bought. We had paid to be entertained by the genre in which we knew this singer. Musical theatre is about the show. Where did we see it, who with, who was in it? And by the way, these are the songs to remind us. In a way she could have performed any songs from any shows. However, random songs from other people’s songbooks did not cut it. It was like going into an ice cream parlour and being offered tomato soup!
  2. There was no customer loyalty reward. She did not remind us of her hey day and awaken our memories. She did not connect with us. She ignored why we were fans and just took us for granted. She did not deliver what we had ordered.
  3. No attention was paid to customer feedback. She was aware of the disappointment in the auditorium because the applause was almost non-existent but did not react to the signals. She just steamrollered on generating more discontent and embarrasment.

And the results:

  • Will we spend good money to see her again? Very unlikely.
  • Will we continue to buy her CDs? Unlikely.
  • Are we still fans? I am not; who knows about the others?

When I checked the reviews of the earlier dates on the tour they all said the same things. In effect the star continued to ignore the facts. Demosthenes said, “the easiest thing of all is to deceive yourself; for we believe whatever we want to believe”.

How true. And how very sad.

Why am I sharing this with you? I think there are business lessons.

  • Do we deliver what customers expect?
  • Do we value and respect our customers?
  • Do we react quickly to feedback?

We all know how hard it is to win a customer – let’s hang on to them in 2018!

2018 is going to be a great year – lots of happy customers! Buying and repeat buying the products and services they want; loving the good customer service they receive; seeing good reactions to feedback. Lots of good feeling and profit through getting the basics right.